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Tunnel vision near to a magical place at heart of Gorleston high Street

PUBLISHED: 21:16 26 January 2017

The view from inside the cavernous long-defunct tramway depot, adjacent to the public library in the heart of Gorleston's centre. The entire building was demolished in the Seventies.
Picture: ANDERSON/YARMOUTH NEWS AGENCY

The view from inside the cavernous long-defunct tramway depot, adjacent to the public library in the heart of Gorleston's centre. The entire building was demolished in the Seventies. Picture: ANDERSON/YARMOUTH NEWS AGENCY

ANDERSON/YARMOUTH NEWS AGENCY

Please read today’s column in silence, guaranteeing that any discussion is in whispered tones. That will create the atmosphere of Gorleston’s public library post-war when I was a child borrower, the obligatory hush ensuring that browsers, researchers, newspaper readers and the forbidding duty librarian were not disturbed by chatter.

Long after the last tram had left...the interior of the depot.
Picture: ANDERSON/YARMOUTH NEWS AGENCYLong after the last tram had left...the interior of the depot. Picture: ANDERSON/YARMOUTH NEWS AGENCY

The distinctive library, designed by long-serving borough surveyor John “Concrete” Cockrill in his familiar and distinctive terra cotta style, was financed by a £2000 gift from millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and built in the first decade of the 20th century.

It was right in the heart of Gorleston, at the busy crossroads of High Street, Lowestoft Road, Baker Street and Church Lane. In the Seventies the library and the adjoining cavernous former tramway depot were demolished, succeeded by a trendy-looking building lacking charisma.

My recent reference to that library prompted an e-mail from former colleague Tony Mallion, of Lowestoft Road, telling me: “I loved the old library with its wood panelling and parquet flooring and can still recall its rich detail and evocative smell of polish and books.

“It was a magical place of reading and learning and I couldn’t wait to move on from the junior section when tastes turned from the adventures of schoolboy Jennings to Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming. Jennings was such a great favourite which I devoured so rapidly one summer holiday that my mum invented the rule that you couldn’t go back and change your book on the same day!”

The new Gorleston Library that replaced the attractive Carnegie building.
Picture: MERCURY LIBRARYThe new Gorleston Library that replaced the attractive Carnegie building. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

If memory serves me a-right, in my childhood borrowers were officially forbidden to return books on the day they took them out.

Tony continues: “Many years later I had the privilege at Radio Norfolk of interviewing the author Anthony Buckeridge and telling him how much I had enjoyed his Jennings stories.

“The upstairs reading room was next to that magnificent metal clock which stuck out from the corner of the building (a feature we were promised would be preserved). This room, enjoyed a great view, was a place of fascination, filled with daily newspapers, magazines and a regular clientele putting the world to rights as the clock mechanism ticked away behind a wooden panel.

“As a teenager I spent even more time at the library having landed the coveted evening paper round from Malcolm Moss’s paper shop on Lowestoft Road which included delivering the Eastern Evening News (the originally home of the Peggotty column, of course).

“I confess that as the Mercury chief reporter the in the 1970s, I was one of those who supported the idea of sweeping away the Carnegie Library and replacing it with a spanking new building. but I did so on the basis that Gorleston would then have a lecture theatre and galleries where arts-related activities would thrive.

“That has never really been the case. The lecture theatre does get some use but 40 years on we still await the art exhibitions.

“It all happened around the time of local government reorganisation in 1974. The old self- contained county borough council was to disappear to become the much larger Yarmouth authority, taking in some neighbouring Suffolk and Norfolk rural parishes.

“Yarmouth had been a prosperous area and the old council had lots in the coffers. The choice was to hand it over to the new boys or spend it on local projects. They went for the latter option and hence the redundant St George’s Church was saved to become an arts centre; a community centre was created on the Shrublands housing estate; and a large contribution was made towards the creation of a new Gorleston Library.

“Today, when we have greater respect for historic buildings of character, the Carnegie Library would have been saved and expanded behind into a modern building, imaginatively using the old tram shed at the rear.

“But in the 1970s, it was out with the old and in with the modernist concrete new!”

Now we switch themes dramatically, from the cloistered calm of Gorleston’s long-gone old library to the bizarre nightmare of a high-speed naval vessel ploughing on to treacherous Scroby Sands off Yarmouth in thick fog and remaining stranded there for no fewer than 43 days - including Christmas and New Year - in the mid-winter of 1952-53.

My recent account of the Danish Navy’s motor torpedo boat Havoernen being refloated after spending six weeks high and dry on Scroby was of special interest to reader Anna Smith who informs me that the saga had not one happy ending but two!

“Sailors on the accompanying vessels returned to port in Lowestoft and, after enjoying a night’s dancing at the Palais de Dance, romance blossomed between one of the sailors 
and a local young woman,” says Anna.

That Dane was Erik Mortensen, radar operator on the MTB which had been astern of the Havoernen when she ran aground on the notorious sandbank hidden by the thick blanket of fog.

Anna continues: “After many letters and trips across the North Sea, the couple were married in July 1954, moving back to Lowestoft in 1955. They were my parents, and were happily married for 61 years but, sadly, Mum passed away in 2015, but Dad still lives in the town.”

When my feature was published at Christmas, Erik told Anna details of the drama he had never mentioned to her previously, and showed her photographs and newspaper cuttings.

According to Erik, there were three or four Danish MTBs staying in Lowestoft overnight, arriving from Harwich after combined NATO exercises with the Royal Navy and had sailed up from Harwich. When they resumed their voyage back to Denmark, the Havoernen grounded on the sandbank.

“Dad told me that his boat stayed watch over the stranded boat overnight, returning to Lowestoft the following morning,” adds Anna, a lifelong Lowestoft resident.

By coincidence, Anna’s prospective father-in-law was a member of the crew of the tug Lowestoft which assisted in the rescue of the MTB from Scroby.

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